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notre dame montreal Peter's confession of faith

Sermon on Jesus and casting out demons

Jesus heals the man with an unclean spirit

Mark 1: 21-28

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Look at the episode today from Marks Gospel and specifically the healing or exorcism which takes place in the synagogue in Capernaum. We struggle to understand exactly what was taking place when Jesus performed miracles, they are so outside our understanding or experience. Yet it becomes even more difficult when we have an episode such as the one from Mark’s Gospel today, when Jesus is seen to be tackling evil spirits or demons. What on earth was going on?

When we think of demons we tend to be influenced by horror movies and Hollywood with out of the ordinary manifestations. However at the time of Jesus there was a common understanding that evil spirits and demons were all around. It was they who were responsible for a great deal of what took place in the world, things like sickness, leprosy these kinds of diseases were not seen as medical problems, they were spiritual problems and that is why those who were affected by the were precluded from taking part in the worship community.

Today we have a very different world view which is influenced by science which has helped us to understand the physical causes of ailments. No longer do we believe that disease is caused by demonic activity, it is treated with medicine not exorcism. This medicine is part of God’s healing in the world. For this reason we should never imagine a situation in which we would ever consider dealing with a person who was suspected of having some spiritual possession without also working very closely with medical professionals.

It is fairly fruitless if we seek to seek to understand exactly what was happening in the story today where Jesus casts out an unclean spirit. We simply don’t know what lies behind the story of this possession. However what is clear is that throughout his ministry Jesus dealt with people who were trapped by forces which oppressed them and ruined their lives. Jesus is unafraid to tackle the issues of his day which oppress the poor, the weak and the defenceless. Jesus seeks out those who are treated badly by society, he is open and generous to those considered to be on the margins. Throughout his ministry Jesus tackles the very real and tangible evidences of evil which ruin people’s lives and bind them up. Jesus reaches out and literally touches those who are spiritually impure and rather than becoming contaminated, he brings healing and wholeness to that which he encounters.

Jesus has been baptized, tempted in the wilderness, and now comes to proclaim and demonstrate the kingdom of God on earth, and he does this by opposing the forces of evil which would rob the children of God of all that God hopes and intends for them. Right at the beginning of his gospel Mark shows us that Jesus has power over things that frighten us and ruin our lives. Mark is making this point: that the will and purpose of God present in Jesus is engaging and fighting against the purposes of evil that exist among humanity.

So for us today what does this mean?

The movie style demons may cause us to hide behind the sofa with their bloodcurdling screams, apparitions and possession. However Christians face far more frightening forces which are diametrically opposed to God’s will. Forces of evil exist all around us today. We see them in things like racial violence and domestic abuse. Evil temps people to throw their lives away in pursuit of things like money, or drugs. Our work is to speak the authority of Christ over the forces, that bind and control people and make their lives unwell. This battle is to be fought at the highest levels of government or industry, but also right in the midst of ordinary men and women. This is the battle which we fight daily of good versus evil, right versus wrong,
Christ has come to free us from the demons like prejudice and pride, greed and guile. We all have things which possess us and from which we need liberation.

Jesus encounters evil - speaks his word and the evil presence takes flight. For us sometimes the road to healing and restoration takes time.

  • Sometimes it's not about a single pastoral visit but the steady support of a grief support network
  • It might take the hard work of debt counsellors or anger-management classes,

God is at work in all these ways and so many more - to free us from the unclean spirits that still possess us. We seek to follow Christ in this way, and the church too must act. The church to needs to constantly seek out its place in society to liberate people.

In his penetrating book The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian author who defected to America, makes an interesting observation about how the Russian authorities handle the church. He writes:

"No one stops them from ringing their bells; they can break communion bread anyway they please. They can have their processions with the cross. But they will in no way allow them to have any connection with social or civic affairs."

The church was allowed to go through the motions; it could have a presence, but it dare not have an influence. we must seek to be an influence, to be God’s presence in the world. Jesus has the authority to teach and to heal, the power to cast out demons and to grant new life to those will receive it. This power is something which we the church are called to share

In the Gospel According to Mark it says this about the first disciples of Jesus:

"And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons." -- Mark 3:14-15

And they did. They went out and they proclaimed his message, and they were able to cast out demons, to heal people, through his name

The unclean spirit said to Jesus, ‘Have you come to destroy us’. The answer was yes, Jesus came to destroy all that binds and disfigures and mars God’s image in us. Now we are engaged in this work, of fighting evil and proclaiming freedom to those who are bound tight by spirits which oppress. With our modern world scientific world view we find it difficult to believe in demons and unclean spirits, however we need only open our newspapers and we see evil all over the place and people with terribly disfigured lives.

Holocaust Memorial Day MD this year was all about the need to 'speak up and speak out' - to refuse to be silent against prejudice and discrimination. These are the kind of demons which we all need to face. Jesus shows us that he is stronger than anyone today in the gospel reading. He shows that he has power over evil - that his love - that God's love, can defeat the worst enemy.

In his ministry Jesus used his power and authority to help, to show kindness and not to hurt . He shows by his actions that - he heals people, he frees us and binds up the broken hearted,

This is his work. Instead of taking what he wants, he gives us what we need. Instead of telling people to kneel at his feet and to wash them, he stoops down and cleans our feet. When we follow Jesus we ask that his power and authority will work in us and through us that we might be healed (and all that that word means in its broadest sense) and moreover that others might be healed through us.